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U.S. Pilot Accidentally Bombs Canadian Troops, Killing Four

By Craig Gordon
NEWSDAY -- washington

Mistakenly believing he was under attack from the ground, an American F-16 pilot in Afghanistan dropped a laser-guided bomb that instead hit friendly forces, killing four Canadian soldiers and injuring eight others taking part in live-ammunition training exercise below him, Pentagon officials said Thursday.

Air controllers already had denied the pilot’s request to fire after he first reported he was under attack, defense officials said Thursday, but on a second pass, the pilot dropped a 500-pound laser-guided bomb, believing he was acting in self-defense.

Pentagon officials also said it was unclear why the American pilot and controllers apparently were not aware of the training exercise at a former al-Qaida camp about 10 miles south of Kandahar’s airport. Canadian officials said Thursday that they were “absolutely convinced” U.S. forces in the area had been fully notified.

Canada’s military and governmental leaders were stunned and baffled by the incident, the first Canadian deaths in a combat zone since the Vietnam War.

“We have so many questions this morning,” Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien said in addressing the Parliament in Ottawa. “Extensive training for combat is meant to save lives. How does this happen?”

President Bush conveyed his regrets to Chretien Wednesday night and promised in a statement Thursday to work with Canada to determine how the accident occurred. “We will draw every possible lesson from what happened and do everything we can to protect coalition forces engaged in this vitally important mission,” the statement said.

Canadian officials promised to convene a formal inquiry, saying they wanted to question the American pilot, whom the U.S. has not named.

Pentagon officials said two Air National Guard F-16s were on routine patrol over Kandahar about 5:25 p.m. Eastern time Wednesday when one pilot saw ground fire below and apparently thought it was an enemy attack.